Friday, February 27, 2015

Telling My Story: One of Those Women

This is Part 5 of my story.
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

“I can’t believe I’m one of those women.” 

That’s what I thought as I packed my getaway bag and stashed it in my car.

“I’m one of those women.”

I thought I knew what domestic violence and its victims looked like. It was sad, but it wouldn’t happen to me. I came from a loving, middle-class family. I had good friends. I was bright, educated, and talented. Not like one of those women.

I would never allow myself to be treated that way. I would know better. I would recognize an abusive man a mile away. I wasn’t weak, ignorant, or pitiable. Not like one of those women.

I had a clear picture in my mind of who those women were, and I wasn’t one of them.

Until I was.

I quickly learned what an abuse survivor really looks like:

She is poor, homeless, well-off, jobless, professional, godless, God-fearing, well-connected, utterly alone, young, old, gay, straight. She has a history of abuse and an idyllic childhood. She needed rescue or simply fell in love and can’t figure out how it has gone so wrong. She has no idea how she ended up in this nightmare, but she knows it’s her fault. She will keep trying to defend and fix her relationship until she can’t anymore. She will leave when she is ready. She may never be ready.

She is stronger than she knows and hates having to summon that strength each minute of each day. She has no idea how she will make it through another nightmarish night. She still hopes: hopes she is wrong, hopes things will get better, hopes he will change, because without that sliver of hope, she is lost.

Most importantly, she is real. She is not a statistic or a sad story or a political tool. She is a hurting human being. Whoever she is, she is doing her level best simply to survive.

She needs compassion. She needs safe people who will show her love, kindness, and patience, because her home life is hard enough. She knows she isn’t an easy friend, but oh, how desperately she needs that lifeline.

I was 23, fresh out of college, and was scared out of my mind. I was finally ready to leave.
I was one of those women.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Telling My Story: Lifeline

This is Part 4 of my story.
Part 3

Towards the end of the relationship, some kind coworkers invited me out for dinner and drinks. I knew my abuser would be angry if I wasn’t home on time, so I was reluctant. Our boss let us leave early so I could enjoy a fun evening. She wanted me to have that. She was the same one who later referred me to WEAVE. It was a miracle I wasn’t fired from that job, but she showed me kindness and I’ll never forget it.

I had a great time until I realized I had missed the last bus home and would have to call him for a ride. I panicked. He picked me up, furious, and drove me home. Not knowing what was going to happen, I told him I was going to take a bath and locked myself in the bathroom. I got a few minutes of “peace” until he came knocking. This wasn’t “the” moment I knew I had to leave, but it was one of my first moments of clarity about my situation.

The turning point may have been the night he came towards me in the middle of a fight, fist raised. It was the first overt threat of physical violence. I backed away, and he cried and asked, “How could you think I would hit you?!” He left the room and I sat in the dark, frightened and alone. I knew I needed to keep the peace in order to stay safe that night, so I apologized and comforted him, all the while wondering what the hell to do next.

I wanted to be rid of him, but I felt trapped. I didn’t know how to ask for help. I was confused and ashamed. I had spent so much time defending him and our relationship; I didn’t think I could do an about-face. I was afraid of how my family and friends would react. Would they help, or would they say, “I told you so,” and leave me on my own?

One night, I simply couldn’t pretend any longer. He left for the evening, and I called my parents. I nearly chickened out, but I finally told them the truth: things were horrible and I was afraid.

They responded perfectly, with love and compassion. They did absolutely everything right. I didn’t know it was possible to feel fear and relief simultaneously.

My parents told me I could come home whenever I wanted, and coached me through an escape plan. I didn't leave that night, but for the first time, I felt a glimmer of hope. After feeling nothing but dread for so long, I had a lifeline.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

"We be brave together"

“I not scared. I brave.” 

We recently took the front off our 2-1/2-year-old’s crib, and while we improvised a rail to prevent her from falling out, her once cozy cocoon is now different. She’s still perfectly safe, but that one change is big enough to bring a degree of uncertainty and fear to her little world. All of a sudden, there are shadows in her room. Spooky shadows, she says, like Curious George saw. 

So we sing our bedtime songs and pray. She asks for a cuddle. I curl up on the edge of her bed, hold her hand, and stroke her head. She snuggles into her nest of stuffed animals and closes her eyes. I watch her (presumably) drift off to sleep and am overcome with my own uncertainty and fear.  

I’m raising a daughter. 

I’m raising a daughter. 

How am I supposed to do that? 

How am I supposed to teach her all the things she needs to know when I don’t even know them? 

How do I raise a child as a Christian when I still have my doubts and uncertainties, if not about God, then about parts of Christian culture? How do I teach her to navigate the crazy rules concocted by the world and the church without losing her mind or her self or her love for Christ?  

How do I instill that which I am just beginning to grasp? That it’s not about following man’s rules, that I don’t have to fit some mold, that it’s about deep, saving love beyond my wildest imagining, love I can barely begin to comprehend without breaking down in tears? 

How do I pray for her? How do I teach her these bigger things when I can barely get through the day of work and preschool drop-off and meals and dishes and “don’t hit the kitty, that makes him sad and scared” and figuring out basic teaching and discipline? If I don’t get to those bigger things now, if they get lost in the every day, have I completely messed up and missed out? 

Some form of these thoughts rush through my mind as I curl up on her crib, feel her tiny hand grasp mine as it has done since day one. She opens her eyes and says, “No macaroni and cheese. Don’t want it. Eggs and toast. No want them,” and I am, as ever, delighted and bewildered by her. I assure her that she does not have to eat macaroni and cheese or eggs and toast tonight and she settles again. 

I kiss her, extricate myself, and head to her door. Her little voice pipes up again: 

“We be brave together, mama.” 

That’s it. That’s exactly what I need, what we need. 

I don’t have to do this alone. I don’t have to hold it together because that’s His job. He protects me as I serve and hold fast to Him. Maybe it’s enough to settle in His love and grace, to learn as we go, together. 

Brave in Christ. Brave together.
We be brave together, baby girl. Tonight and always.